NASA’s space telescope at Caltech has surpassed all predictions for discovery and longevity.

How are stars born? Where does that happen? What does it look like? What would a map of the Milky Way galaxy look like? Are there many more galaxies in space?

These are a few of the questions that NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which celebrated its 15th year in space this year, has been able to answer with visible imagery that is astonishing. Spitzer’s predicted lifespan was just 2½ years (in a best-case scenario, 5 years) because of the stressful environment of space, where temperatures range from well below freezing to planet surfaces as hot as stars, but it has lasted six times that forecast.

Spitzer is a can-do telescope, surpassing all predictions and then some. “It has been a bonanza and every day is a holiday,” said Michael Werner, project scientist for Spitzer Space Telescope, who has worked on the project for some 40 years. “Spitzer has exceeded all expectations for longevity and also discoveries.”

The raft of Spitzer’s otherworldly discoveries include: a stellar nursery, seven Earth-size planets, Saturn’s largest ring and the farthest and oldest galaxy ever known — all previously inconceivable, even to the astronomers and engineers who created and have maintained the telescope, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Caltech’s Spitzer Science Center. “Our ability to find and observe exoplanets [planets orbiting around a star other than the sun] has been really phenomenal,” added Werner. “We did a deep map to study galaxies almost as far back as the Big Bang. We mapped the Milky Way. We didn’t plan on it doing any of this.”

Spitzer was the fourth and final one of NASA’s so-called Great Observatories to reach space, joining Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. Spitzer has been described as the cornerstone of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins Program. Synthesizing data from various telescopes, which collect light in different wavelengths, helps scientists gain a clearer picture of the universe and wonders of the cosmos.

Spitzer was designed to observe the universe in infrared wavelengths of light, allowing a better view and retrieval of information about objects in space that are extremely far away or blocked by stellar dust. Infrared wavelengths of light are too long to be visible to the human eye and mostly emanate from heat radiation. The telescope’s infrared capabilities equip it to see through dust to detect and read stars and objects that are too faint or distant for optical telescopes, or that are obscured by turbulent clouds of space dust, said Sean Carey, manager of Spitzer Science Center. It is similar to what firefighters use to see through smoke, he added. “Spitzer told us how stars form,” said Carey. “We know they form in very dense infrared-dark clouds, [we] can see how many are forming, the spacing between stars and their sizes telling us how they form. Winds blow away the material they form out of so that you can see inside the stellar nurseries.” What creates the wind, said Carey, is light from massive hot stars, which pushes the material away from the stars after they form.

But Spitzer’s single most important discovery, scientists say, is the study of what is called the Trappist-1 system. Trappist-1 is an ultra-cool dwarf star 40 light years away. Trappist-1 has more Earth-size planets (called “exoplanets”) than any other known planetary system. These seven exoplanets are rocky but potentially habitable and are the most studied planetary system outside of our own solar system because of Spitzer. “Studying planets around other stars was in its infancy when Spitzer launched, but we now often spend more than half the time each year on these studies,” Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, project manager for Spitzer Telescope, said in an email. “The observatory wasn’t designed to do this, but it is really good at it.”

Spitzer accurately detects planets orbiting other stars by measuring the tiny dip in light from the star as the planet passes in front of it, known as “planetary transit.” This is now a commonly used technique to detect the depth and shape of the transit which provides information about the planets around other stars, added Storrie-Lombardi, who has worked on Spitzer for 19 years. Discoveries like these are beyond the scope of what Spitzer was originally designed to do in 2003 when it officially began its mission in space.

Spitzer’s infrared vision has also allowed scientists to study the most distant galaxies in the universe. Light from some of these distant galaxies traveled for 13.4 billion years to reach Earth, according to NASA’s website. Using data from the Spitzer and Hubble telescopes allowed “scientists to see these galaxies as they were less than 400 million years after the birth of the universe,” according to JPL’s website. Spitzer identified many distant galaxy clusters previously unknown. What surprised scientists was the discovery of so-called “big baby” galaxies that were much larger and more mature than early galaxies were believed to be. These big baby galaxies indicated that massive clusters of stars came together very early in the universe’s history, the website notes.

Spitzer has also mapped the entire disk of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. “We initially thought that the Milky Way galaxy disk would just be too bright for Spitzer,” said Storrie-Lombardi. “We figured out how to do it and this program provides one of the most spectacular science legacies of the mission.”

With data gleaned from Spitzer, scientists were able to create one of the most extensive maps of the Milky Way galaxy ever compiled, including the most accurate map of the large bar of stars in the galaxy’s center. There is now a map of the entire 360-degree expanse of the Milky Way available to astronomers and the public. A continually looping view of the entire galaxy moving past can be seen at spitzer.caltech.edu by searching for a video titled “Panning Through the Milky Way.”

Other Spitzer discoveries include the largest known ring around Saturn, a wispy, fine structure 300 times the planet’s diameter, and the first giant gas exoplanet (a hot Jupiter) weather map of temperature variations across its surface, showing the presence of fierce winds.

What the future holds for Spitzer is yet to be determined, but the revolutionary telescope’s space mission continues through November 2019. Thus far, Spitzer has logged 106,000 hours observing space, and thousands of scientists around the world have used Spitzer data in their studies. Spitzer data has been cited in more than 8,000 published papers. For the social media– and virtual reality–obsessed public, NASA has created a selfie app for IOS and Android phones that “dresses” you in a space suit (or you might follow Storrie-Lombardi’s example and use it to snap your pet — Maria the dog is on Facebook floating in the Milky Way; she posted that in August and just made it public). The backgrounds for the selfie app include the Galactic Center, the Cigar Galaxy or Cassiopeia A. There is also an Exoplanet Excursions Virtual Reality Experience for Vive or Oculus devices, found at spitzer.caltech.edu/vr. And to highlight Spitzer’s greatest discovery, Trappist-1, there is a 360-degree video on Youtube titled “NASA’s Exoplanet Excursions 360.”

From the dawn of human history people have been trying to understand what we see when we look up at the night sky, and how we fit into it. “Seeing the incredible response and excitement, worldwide, to the discovery of the Trappist-1 planetary system was one of the most rewarding moments of my professional life,” said Storrie-Lombardi. “There were over 5 billion web hits on stories about it. I think the biggest contribution space astronomy makes is connecting so many people with the wonders of our universe.”

The city is on track to join San Francisco and Boston as one of the country’s major biotech hubs

When Arthur Young, founder and chief executive officer of Pasadena’s InvVax, was researching molecular biology at UCLA in 2010, he became infected with a mission: to create the first vaccine that could completely withstand and ultimately eradicate the constantly mutating and increasingly deadly influenza virus.

Last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 650,000 people worldwide died from flu. Moreover, there is a constant and increasing fear of a large and devastating pandemic as we all travel more and more around the globe, facilitating the spread of incurable viruses that would have been geographically contained in the past.

Back in his UCLA lab, Young started with a Herculean task: He took the entire flu virus genome consisting of 13,000 nucleotides — molecules which, when linked together, form the building blocks of DNA — and built a collection of all the virus’ possible mutations. Young was able to single out some small regions of the virus in which mutations would be fatal to its survival. It made sense, he figured, to focus on building a vaccine targeting those regions. The vaccine will ostensibly allow this key region of the virus to kill itself off while actively attacking other regions of the virus. In short: An inoculated individual should be “universally” immune to the flu. InvVax’s novel, patented approach distinguishes itself from the many others working to eradicate the influenza virus.

Fast-forward to 2013: InvVax was up and running out of the Pasadena Biotech Collaborative (PBC) incubator, a shared work/lab space. Human trials for the vaccination are expected to begin in 2020.

“We think what we’re doing could actually better the world in a very tangible, necessary way,” says Young.

InvVax is one of a burgeoning number of early-stage biotech/life-science companies that are choosing Pasadena as their home base. Indeed, over the past decade, the industry has been growing so rapidly here that Pasadena is on track to become a major biotech hub, vying with Boston, San Francisco and San Diego.

BIOTECH BOOM?

For example, in the past two years, the PBC — the area’s first life-sciences incubator — has more than doubled its space to 12,000 square feet while doubling the number of companies it hosts from 18 to 24. Says Robert “Bud” Bishop, PhD, chief executive of PBC, “We deal with early-stage startups with typically two to four people. So when companies come here they’re very high-tech and science-focused and typically aren’t familiar with how to attract startup money by attracting investors or how to obtain small business loans or research grants. We bring in experts in these and other areas to talk to them, mentor them.”

A current PBC company, Panacea Nano — founded by Youssry Botros, PhD, and Nobel Prize–winning chemist Sir Fraser Stoddart, a Northwestern University professor —  recently scored a success in nanotechnology, specifically the use of organic, biodegradable, patented “nano-cubes” which time-release active ingredients in various products. Last December the team launched a commercial anti-aging skincare line that allows for various nutrients — vitamins and moisture-retaining elements — to supply “a fresh, continuous supply of active agents,” Botros told a Chicago-area publication.

Since 2004 PBC has “graduated” 14 successful companies, including Neumedicines, still in Pasadena, and PLC Diagnostics in Thousand Oaks. Says Bishop, “Of course it would be great if all of our startups ended up as successful standalone companies based in the Pasadena area, but many are bought up by larger companies that may be located elsewhere. Still, all this activity makes for a thriving and growing biotech community.”

There are also a number of early-stage biotechs now moving into the next level or the mid-to-late stage of bringing an invention into fruition. Synova Life Sciences, a medical device company working independently out of the Huntington Medical Research Institute (HMRI), is currently bringing to market an automated cell-processing system to harvest a person’s own stem cells from their fat (adipose tissue). That fat can then be reinjected for cosmetic or medical purposes without being rejected. Says John Chi, chief executive, “Synova’s technology is 30 times faster than the current gold standard, harvests twice as many cells and uses no chemicals so it’s safer. We want to help people regenerate their bodies to improve and possibly extend their lives.”

Along with the increasing number of biotech companies, there is unprecedented growth in related businesses. These include new clinical facilities, research settings, other incubators and laboratories. Following in their wake are biotech-focused real estate developers and architectural firms needed to carve out and design more and more square footage to house this biotech boom.

¿POR QUÉ PASADENA?

Short answer: Pasadena is among a few cities boasting a world-class tech-centered university — Caltech — as well as such prominent educational and research institutions as HMRI and The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Add to that a thriving science-skewed population (an astonishing number of Nobel Laureates — 33 at last count — make the city their home).

This gives Pasadena a ready-made community of science-oriented graduates and professionals increasingly looking to stay in the area. Competitive salaries — some say high salaries — particularly in biotech, nanotech and other specialized areas are a big draw. For example, an entry-level or starting scientist job (called “Scientist I”) is in the $150,000+ range in the Pasadena area. Granted, only those with PhDs may apply. But there are also increasing entry-level to middle-range jobs in the $50,000+ range for those with community college certificates and other undergraduate degrees.   Numbers like these attract and ultimately retain talent.

And Caltech continues to grow and attract new investments. Last December the university broke ground for the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building, a $200 million, 150,000-square-foot research facility focused on brain function and neuroscience set to open in 2020.

The university also received a $50 million grant from Panda Restaurant Group owners Andrew and Peggy Chern to develop micro and nanoscale medical technologies and devices. And Caltech is collaborating with the Heritage Medical Research Institute, founded by Caltech trustee Dr. Richard Merkin, which recently extended its research partnership with the university. In conjunction with Heritage, Caltech scientists are investigating areas including Parkinson’s Disease, insomnia and autism. “When there’s a geographical cluster including a variety of biosciences organizations, you see cross-pollination as they increasingly work together,” says Lawren Markle, spokesman for the nonprofit Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), underscoring the thriving scientific nature of the area as a whole.

HMRI is also expanding, having recently completed construction of a $31 million, 35,000-square-foot facility dedicated to basic scientific and clinical patient-focused research. It is involved in several research areas: emerging themes include brain and heart interactions as well as electronic medical implants, particularly micro, less invasive ones.

ACTIVIST AMBASSADORS

“It’s fair to say that a biotech boom, in particular for early-growth-stage companies, is under way in Los Angeles County. Pasadena is sort of the unsung hub,” says Beth Kuchar, president of Innovate Pasadena, a nonprofit group that actively facilitates communication and collaboration between the area’s various medical, tech and biotech firms. Indeed, it’s essential to point out how crucial a role both local government and private organizations continue to play in Pasadena’s biotech/life sciences growth. The Pasadena Economic Development Corporation (EDC) works with nongovernmental economic development organizations such as Innovate Pasadena and the LAEDC to identify and recruit new biotech companies to the area.

They also work to entice established companies to relocate here. The Doheny Eye Center UCLA, a world leader in vision science and research that produces new diagnostic and treatment procedures, is moving from its longtime downtown L.A. headquarters near its former partner, USC, to a renovated space northwest of Old Pasadena. “We like to think of ourselves as the life-science ambassadors for Pasadena,” says Innovate Pasadena’s Kuchar.

Once here, Innovate Pasadena and other like-minded groups seek to facilitate communication and collaboration between the city’s various medical technologies and life-sciences companies. One way they do this: so-called “biotech mixers.” These “macro-sized” mixers — the April event attracted more than 160 networkers — are held fairly regularly in Pasadena. Attendees include everyone from newbie biotech scientists, researchers and company heads to academics and angel and venture investors looking to make connections that can lead to potentially fertile collaborations. “Think of the event as a big petri dish,” says LAEDC’s Markle.

After all, Pasadena could always accommodate a few more Nobel Laureates, especially in burgeoning biotech.

Waste not (Halloween candy), want not

Halloween has come and gone, and I still have a cupboard full of candy. You’d think I would have gauged the trick-or-treat traffic flow of the neighborhood by now (I’ve lived in this spot for 20 years). Our home is on the only uphill section of a very long, very straight and otherwise flat street. Most years we get only one or two costumed hooligans willing to huff-and-puff up a half block for free candy. One year I thought, “Eh, no one will come — we’ll just turn our lights off.” Of course, the doorbell rang for two hours, and I had guilt until Thanksgiving. That year I vowed to always be prepared. 

Another reason I have candy left over is that, although I have an empty nest, I still buy the kids’ favorite candy. It’s not that I think that somehow the presence of said candy will conjure them back home for the day. Rather, it is a test. Somehow, otherworldly spirits are testing me, and if I were to forget the kids’ candy, the spirits would make the kids forget me. 

I realize this is boo-nanas. But my favorite book as a kid was E.L. Konigsburg’s Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, in which the protagonist, Elizabeth, must complete several tasks on her way to becoming a real witch with powers. I view the candy as a task I must complete to realize the full powers of motherhood. I don’t know what those powers are yet, as there are several more tasks to complete over this holiday season. I’ll be in touch.   

Anyway, this is why I have a ton of leftover candy. Again.

When the kids were little, there was no such thing as leftover candy. They ate plenty of it on Halloween night, after a long session of bartering. Once they were in bed, it was time for us to assess the loot and abscond with our favorites. Then, I would tuck a piece in their lunch box every day until it was all gone. Never did I ask, “Whatever shall I do with all this leftover candy?” More likely, the question was, “Who ate that Butterfinger I was saving?”

But things change, and now I find myself researching recipes that utilize leftover candy. The fare is about what you’d think. Mix it into cookies. Mix it into brownies. Mix it into rice crispy bars. Mix it into cheesecake. A lot of mixing, and not a lot of real cooking. I have even come across several suggestions to mix all the candy together for a pie, sandwiched inside a double crust of traditional pie dough and baked into a melty mass of diabetes on a plate. (It has been suggested by members of this family that it doesn’t sound half bad, but I should use a crumb crust and top it with Cool Whip.)

The issue one may have with leftover Halloween-candy recipes is that they are mostly for chocolate candies. It’s the hard, gummy, sour and slimy candies that present the challenge. But I have some tricks up my sleeve.

For hard and gummy candies, my most ingenious idea has been to use them in my sauce making. Anytime your sauce calls for sugar, use some hard candies instead. Add them to the simmering sauce, and stir them in as they dissolve. If they are sour, like Jolly Ranchers, their acidity can really help balance a sauce. I have done this with stir-fry and satay sauces, as well as the classic French gastrique. The other thing I do with hard candies is save them for Christmas to make stained-glass cookies. Use your favorite sugar-cookie dough, cut out shapes, then cut out a center hole in each shape. Lay the window “frames” on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then fill the space with crushed hard candies. As they bake, the candy will melt and create the window “glass.” This looks best with clear hard candies, but I’ve done it with red-and-white peppermints too.  (Although, if you received red-and-white peppermints in your trick-or-treat bag, that’s a legitimate excuse to egg a house. That’s a worse offense than raisins.)

A quick, easy and seemingly decadent use for any and all chocolate candy bars is super-simple microwave mousse. Use equal parts of chocolate candy and heavy cream. Melt the chocolates slowly in the microwave, stirring until liquid and smooth, then cool for 5 minutes while whipping the cream to medium peaks. Pour the warm chocolate into the whipped cream and quickly whip it again until well combined and stiff. Spoon into dishes and chill. You can use this mousse as a pie filling too. (Definitely a crumb crust — possibly made with leftover Oreos.)

Marshmallowy, gummy candies (including those weird candy hamburgers) melt easily into your favorite rice crispy bar recipe and can be zapped soft into Winter-Kitchen Microwave S’mores. I have also used these in conjunction with leftover chocolate bars in my best seven-layer bar recipe. 

This year, though, I’m going to make my favorite cookie, which I affectionately and unimaginatively call The World’s Best Cookie. To be clear, I named it that because I like it — not because everyone else does. It has a subtle crunch that comes from cornflakes and is usually studded with chocolate chips, nuts and coconut. (This evening the part of chocolate chips, nuts and coconut will be played by chopped leftover peanut butter cups, Milky Ways and M&Ms).  I will make these, then ship them off in care packages to the offspring, because I am pretty sure that is part of this mystic test. 

The onslaught of fall is an onslaught of these tests. Everywhere are reminders of my kids, and everywhere are reminders that I have turned into a stereotypical parent of adult children — reminiscing about their youth, telling the same stories over and over, grunting when I get up out of a chair. It comes as a shock every time, though, because in my head I still feel that I’m in my mid-30s, tops. (That damn mirror always ruins everything.) When I was a 30something parent, they were just toddlers, and I was actively counting down until their 18th birthdays, when they would no longer be my problem. (This was due, in no small part, to exhaustion.) Along the way they kinda grew on me. 

So, anyway, I hope you enjoyed yet another column about how I miss my kids. Maybe I should get a dog. (Except, nope. That’s another stereotypical move…forget it.) Anyway, they won’t be home for Thanksgiving either. I will be busy completing November’s mystical test, which has something to do with pine-cone turkey crafts. Luckily, using up leftovers at Thanksgiving is
much easier.
||||

 

THE WORLD’S BEST COOKIE: Post-Halloween Edition

Although this recipe advocates the use of leftover Halloween candy, I am not averse to the notion of throwing in a handful of crushed pretzels or potato chips as well. Just keep the combined garnishes down to 3 cups.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick oats, uncooked

2 cups cornflakes

3 cups assorted candies, chopped into    chocolate-chip-sized pieces

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with pan spray or parchment paper.

2. Cream together butter and sugars until smooth and lump-free. One at a time, stir in milk, vanilla and eggs. Be sure each addition is well incorporated before the next goes in. Stir in baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Mix until well integrated. Fold in oats and cornflakes. Stir in candies, then chill the finished dough for 10 to 20 minutes.

3. Scoop onto the prepared pan an inch apart (I use a small ice-cream scoop to get a uniform size). Bake for 10 minutes, until firm and golden brown. Serve with a tall glass of milk.


Leslie Bilderback is a chef and cookbook author, a certified master baker and an art history instructor. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.

Mark Saltzman programs an eclectic array of concerts at Boston Court Pasadena

Many people know Boston Court Pasadena as a terrific place to catch theater — less well known is its lively and ongoing program of music ranging from classical to jazz to experimental. The upcoming winter/spring season promises to be another eclectic and exciting one, programmed by the energetic Mark Saltzman, the arts center’s artistic director of music for the past seven years.

Meeting in the venue’s sunlit lobby one afternoon, Saltzman talks about his background, how he got this dream job and what he has planned for next season. He’s dressed casually in a striped T-shirt, jeans and very spiffy sneakers. His smile is particularly dazzling, and he exudes a charisma that makes you understand why he was so successful as a performer, before becoming an administrator.

Born in Berkeley, Saltzman grew up, as he says, “in the middle of the Mojave Desert” — in Barstow. Even though it might have been remote, “at that time there were a lot of public school music programs. This was back in the ’60s, and they would provide an instrument for you at your school.” In the fourth grade he decided to take up the cello. “I thought the cello was a great instrument,” he says. “It sounds the most like the human voice.” He also studied piano but later, as an undergrad at UC Irvine, he majored in voice partly because he was so impressed with the head of the choral department, Maurice Allard. “He was handsome and erudite, and he had a beautiful baritone voice,” he says. “He was filled with spirit and life.” 

After graduation, Saltzman pursued a professional singing career — he is a tenor — and performed in opera and concert halls throughout the world. He eventually expanded into writing, directing and producing for companies such as the Los Angeles Opera, the Long Beach Opera, CalArts and the American Conference of Cantors. From 1983 to ’86 he lived in Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, where he joined the Music Theatre Studio Ensemble; the company was charged with creating “this new form called ‘music theater,’” which incorporated performance, readings and dance with music. 

After a tour of Europe, he came back to Los Angeles and was perturbed by his daughter’s reaction to his absence. “When she was about 4½ and I came home, I could tell she had a hard time recognizing me. So a job was offered to me to cantor by a synagogue in West Hollywood,” he says. “I was about 40 then, and I thought, it’s about time to settle in.” For 20 years he was the cantor for Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, where he is now cantor emeritus. It was a part-time job, which left him time to do other things, like compose music and write.

Eight years ago, Saltzman wrote a piece that interwove the story of human rights activist Elie Wiesel with the story of Job’s wife, to be presented at a special remembrance of the Holocaust sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. Jessica Kubzansky, Boston Court’s artistic director of theater, was hired to direct. At the time, the venue happened to be launching  a music series and, Kubzansky says, “It became clear that his many talents and skill sets were just what Boston Court needed to bring our music programming to the next level.” She invited him to come by to check out the facilities.

“I went to the concert hall, and I fell in love with it,” Saltzman says. In a few days, he drew up three years of programming, which he presented to their then–executive director, Michael Seel. “That space is really only good for acoustic music,” he told Seel. “We can do some electronics, but we can’t do rock and roll, it doesn’t work for that.” Seel was duly impressed and gave him the job. 

Boston Court has two theaters, and the music programs take place in the wood-paneled Marjorie Branson Performance Space, which seats 80. “This is a very special space, designed for music,” says David Lockington, the musical director of the Pasadena Symphony, who himself will be performing there on March 24, 2019. “It’s well-funded, it’s committed to experimental repertoire and Mark is such a fantastic advocate for the arts on so many levels.”

With his ample contacts and eclectic tastes, Saltzman has been able to bring in a wide array of talent. And as the program’s reputation grew, many artists began contacting him about performing there. The music series emphasizes work by living artists, but he has no trouble programming older work as well.

Lockington first performed at Boston Court last spring and is looking forward to his upcoming appearance. “Cello is my main performing instrument,” he says in a phone interview. “I love playing chamber music, I love playing concertos.” Next spring he’ll
present several of his own pieces, including “The Violet Viola Concerto,” based on a lullaby he wrote for his granddaughter, born early this year (yes, her name is Violet). Instrumentalists will include viola, cello and piano, and perhaps flute and harp — he’s still writing the chamber music version of this concerto. That same weekend he’ll be conducting the Pasadena Symphony in a far older piece, Mahler’s First Symphony, at the Ambassador Auditorium (March 23). 

Boston Court’s upcoming music program continues to reflect Saltzman’s eclectic tastes. It launches on Feb. 14 with Storm Large — better known as the vocalist for the band Pink Martini — and continues with chamber music, duets and quartets, a salute to Scottish composer Thea Musgrave (Feb. 23), the concert version premiere of an opera about designer Alexander McQueen (March 1) and a jazz band led by Josh Nelson (March 8), all culminating in an appearance by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (March 31).

The LACC is now under the artistic direction of new arrival Fernando Malvar-Ruiz. “One of the things I’m trying to do with the chorus is to step away from certain stereotypes,” he says. “I’m trying to find other places where choral music can happen.” While he hasn’t finalized his program, he knows he will want to have two or three ensembles.  “I’m thinking of work that combines poetry and music,” he says, “music that represents a diversity of styles, that embraces the breadth of choral music.” (This winter the chorale will also perform Dec. 9 and 16 at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.)

“I try to do mostly local, I really want to highlight local talent,” says Saltzman. “We are a local institution, and we have great talent here.” 

Boston Court Pasadena is located at 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Visit bostoncourtpasadena.org for the schedule and tickets.

Personal Tech

Just when you thought technology couldn’t make our lives any easier, smart gadgets are getting smarter, more stylish and more powerful. Here are some new tech standouts that can make your life better.

Play Impossible Gameball

What could be more analog than a simple bouncing sphere? As the basis for countless sports, the ball gets a digital upgrade with Play Impossible Gameball, which has embedded sensor-technology that connects to a smartphone app…and that’s where the fun begins. Challenge your buddies to see who can throw the small soccer-like ball the farthest, highest or fastest. Kick it up a notch with digital games that can be played solo or with friends. There’s a virtual version of water-balloon toss and a “keep-away” game that encourages critical thinking along with brute force. Recommended for ages 4 and up.

$99.99, playimpossible.com

Movi Smartphone

Don’t want to watch a movie on your phone? Who can blame you? Movi, an Android smartphone, features an integrated projector that can enlarge 720p images up to more than 16 feet in size diagonally. Nearby walls or ceilings become screens so everyone can share the latest YouTube video, installment of your fave Netflix show or any digital content. The sleek phone’s battery can last up to four hours when the projector is turned on; the projector is launched via an app and switches to landscape mode when you hold your phone horizontally.

$599, moviphones.com

Ovie Smarterware

Leftovers? We always have such high hopes for them, but then time (and mold) sets in. Enter Ovie Smarterware, an easy-to-understand system that tracks how long you have until your food reaches critical spore and ooze level. The Smarterware is a Bluetooth button that is affixed to existing food containers. (You can also purchase Ovie’s bag clips and plastic containers.) Connect with your smart assistant — Alexa, for example — and tell your speaker what’s in the container. Alexa and Google will load the information into the cloud, which has a database of the life span of common foods in the fridge. Ovie, which starts shipping early next year, tracks that food and changes the button colors from green to red, signaling time to reheat or toss.

$95 and up, ovie.life

ZeTime

As the first hybrid smartwatch, the recently upgraded ZeTime combines mechanical hands with a round AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) touchscreen — all crafted with Swiss know-how. Activated for voice recognition, the regular (1.3-inch screen) and petite (1.05-inch screen) models display incoming calls, emails, texts, social media and calendar events. The water-resistant watch can also track your daily activity, sleep patterns and heart rate. If you’ve been a couch potato too long, it gives you a gentle reminder. Compatible with both iOS and Android, ZeTime’s battery typically lasts about four days in either smartwatch and 60 days in analog mode.

$299 and up, mykronoz.com

Kodak Scanza

Baby boomers will have more options for posting pix on Throwback Thursday with this handy device that scans old-school negatives and slides and transforms them into digital form. This film-to-JPEG converter from Kodak quickly digitizes 35mm, 126 and 110 negatives and slides as well as images from Super 8 and 8mm negatives and can transfer them into optimized 14-megapixel or interpolated 22-megapixel files. Images are contained on a simple SD card (not included). You can enhance the quality of the film and adjust the colors and brightness to your liking. You can even scan in gallery mode and display a slideshow as you relive those ancient memories.

$169.99, amazon.com

Cyber Body slimmer

Bringing new meaning to the phrase “shake it off,” the Dr. Fuji Cyber Body Slimmer offers a workout on a self-vibrating platform. Activating many muscle groups at the same time, the fitness machine can produce an effective training session in a mere 10 minutes. And performing exercises on the shaking metal platform can increase blood flow which, in turn, can help users improve balance, strength, flexibility and weight loss. The device runs on 90 watts of power and can vibrate 550 times a minute.

$3,300, cyberbodyslimmer.com

Landroid

It’s a jungle out there, but your lawn doesn’t have to be part of it. The Worx Landroid M is a robotic lawn mower that does the job for you. It tackles your grassy landscaped areas using the power of artificial-intelligence algorithms, sensing and avoiding obstacles and mowing in a best-practices pattern of efficiency, all with minimal noise output. Designed for smaller lawns (less than a quarter of an acre) and customizable for continuous manicure service, the device also “knows” when it’s raining and will return to its docking/charging station. Before you send your unit outside, you’ll need to install perimeter wire that will keep the automated mower contained. If the droid saunters outside the perimeter, you’ll be alerted on your smartphone.

$999, worx.com

Neutrogena Skin360 Skin Scanner

Get ready for your extreme close-up with Neutrogena’s Skin360, which gives you a snapshot of the health and condition of your facial skin. Affix the scanning device — which consists of 12 LED lights, a 30x magnifier and a moisture detector — to the edge of your smartphone camera. Download an app, snap a selfie and then place the scanner on your forehead, chin and cheeks. You’ll see deeply detailed images of pores and wrinkles (“Gasp! Me? What??”) along with a skin-hydration-level score and overall facial analysis that compares your skin to that of other folks your age. Sure, there will be recommendations for Neutrogena products, but you’ll be armed with skin knowledge that can inform your next skin-care purchases.

$50, neutrogena.com

Array Solar Smart Lock

Like the idea of a smart deadbolt, but not the worry about failing batteries that could leave you locked outside of your own home? The Array has your back. This stylish smart lock is powered by an integrated solar panel that continually trickle-charges its onboard battery. The lock should last around 10 months on a charge when it’s in direct sunlight, 30 to 90 days in indirect sunlight. It connects to your overall smart home via Wi-Fi with a wireless router, so there’s no extra tech to buy. You can open it with your smartphone by entering preset codes into its hidden metal keypad (think e-keys) or with a conventional key. The product comes with a second battery and USB charging cradle so there’s always a backup handy. 

$299, acehardware.com

Eveline Smart Ovulation Test

Planning for a bundle of joy? Consider turning your smartphone into a fertility coach. The Eveline Smart Fertility System is an ovulation prediction kit that employs a fertility tracking app with patented technology for near-pinpoint planning. Moms-wanting-to-be use a front-facing smartphone camera and light to measure the color of ovulation test strips; with a 99 percent accuracy rate, results are then recorded in your phone. (The system comes with 10 strips.) Using that data, the system can predict upcoming fertile days with a push notification. Another feature allows you to share your fertile status with your partner — which could mean a candlelight dinner and roses when you return home that evening.

$49.99, amazon

 

A new museum show unveils dozens of previously obscure artists.

As an art conservator, Maurine St. Gaudens has spent over four decades looking at paintings both by the famous and the unknown. For some time she noticed quite remarkable work by women painters she hadn’t known about, some of whom used only an initial for their first name. “They wanted to be genderless, they’d been so discriminated against,” says St. Gaudens in her Pasadena dining room (and now office), the table stacked with books, papers and a model of the Pasadena Museum of History exhibition she is working on. That exhibition is based on the four-volume set of books she started on 10 years ago, Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860 – 1960 (Schiffer Publishing; 2015).

St. Gaudens makes clear these women weren’t Sunday painters. “These were professional artists,” women who had had art training, exhibited their work in public, taught art and otherwise “pursued an art career for at least 15 years,” she says emphatically. In 2012 she was joined in her work by Joseph Morsman, a collector specializing in prints and drawings who wanted to help with further research.

“When I came on board, I introduced a number of artists that Maurine wasn’t familiar with,” Morsman says from behind a computer, at the end of the dining table. “Then we went out to supplement the works that we already had, and we were talking with collectors. We’d asked them if they had A, B or C in their collection. They’d say, ‘But do you have E, F, and G in your book?’ We said, ‘Can we see images?’ Then we’d fall in love, and we kept adding.” They tracked down names and backgrounds through newspaper clippings and files at libraries, historical societies and museums — and sometimes even found surviving family members. St. Gaudens’ original list of 100 women artists eventually exploded to 320, and ended up filling four volumes.

In collaboration with Morsman, St. Gaudens has curated an ambitious new exhibition inspired by the books: Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960 runs through March 31, 2019, at the Pasadena Museum of History. It will include some 300 works, reflecting a wide variety of styles and subjects, by 160 artists; most are included in the books, but the show will also include a few artists they’ve discovered since publication. To present more works than the intimate museum can display at any one time, they will change out about 40 percent of the work midway through.

A number of the artists, such as Ruth Asawa, Helen Lundeberg, Ynez Johnston, Agnes Pelton and June Wayne, will be familiar to art aficionados. Many others will be little known, if at all — even if some of their art may be familiar, as in the case of Ada May Sharpless. Sharpless was the sculptor who created the Art Deco–style Lady of the Lake (1934) statue at Echo Park Lake, as well as the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (1933) at the Santa Ana Historical Museum (now the Bowers Museum). 

One of the pair’s proudest finds is Ruth Miller Kempster (1904–1978), whose painting Housewife (circa 1935) graces the cover of Volume 2 and will be a centerpiece in the exhibition. “It’s one of the greatest discoveries of the book,” says Morsman. Housewife is a sublimely painted oil on canvas of a woman in a red dress under a white apron, standing at the sink washing dishes and looking out with tired eyes at the viewer. Already the gaze of the female subject makes it unusual; for centuries women were looked upon, the passive subject of the male gaze, while in this painting the woman looks out actively. In the background is a young daughter returning a cup to the cupboard, and further back, in the dining room, is the husband reading the newspaper after dinner. It is a snapshot of 1930s Middle America after dinner — after the woman has cooked the obligatory evening meal, she has to clean up also (a scenario that persists for many women). Her universe is the kitchen and the home, her day a series of chores from morning to night, while presumably he goes out to work during the day, then gets to enjoy dinner at home and scan the newspaper — keeping him in touch with the world outside.

Born in Chicago, Kempster came to Pasadena with her family. She studied at the Otis Art Institute and later at the Arts Students League in New York City. Around 1925 she attended L’École des Beaux Arts in Paris and later lived in Florence, until she returned home with her parents in 1928. (Sounds like they had to bring her back!) Kempster painted in a spare room and submitted her painting Struggle, depicting a white man and an African-American man wrestling in an arena, in the fine arts competition for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. The judges recognized her accomplishment and awarded her the Silver Medal in Painting. (The painting was recently acquired by the Huntington Library, Arts Collections and Botanical Gardens.)

One of St. Gaudens’ favorite paintings from her own collection was once an unknown. Years ago she obtained a small painting of the Russian River, signed “C. A. Van Epps” in the lower right corner and dated 1902. “It took me two years to track her down,” says Morsman. “Epps was an Illinois artist, she was raised and educated in Illinois, and she didn’t come out here till about 1900, but I couldn’t find information about her in California. I ended up contacting a historian in Illinois. They gave me her early life, and I gave them her later life.” Epps spent the last 40 years of her life in Los Angeles, and the exquisite landscape showing a lazy stretch on the Northern California river will be included in the show.

“One of the problems is that in the time period, most of them married,” says St. Gaudens. “Sometimes they married three, four, five times, so in some cases they had three, four, five names to trace. It was maddening.” A few women even changed their names completely, creating an artist’s persona. One painter in the show is still a puzzle; her work is the large, striking Portrait of Gladys, which was painted by “Paula Zen” and exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art in 1938. It is a large painting of a woman in profile, wearing a tall cylindrical hat and a voluminous coat. In her lap is a book and behind her a building that looks to be made of children’s building blocks — it may all signify something, but what? The painting is labeled on the back with the title and the artist’s name, and the researchers managed to find the exhibition brochure listing the work. However, they know nothing more about Zen and have no other examples of her work.

“Paula Zen is a true mystery,” says Morsman. “We’re hoping someone will say, ‘I have a Paula Zen at home’ or ‘I, too, have been researching this artist.’”

“She’s the only one we can’t find,” St. Gaudens adds, “and she was exhibited in this major exhibition.”

Which just goes to show that work like this is never done. “Part of the purpose of the book is to make people think, and to discover artists they’re intrigued by and to continue the research,” Morsman says. While they cut off the book project at 320 artists, they know there are more, many more woman artists, yet to be rediscovered and commemorated.

“Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860–1960” runs through March 31, 2019, at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena. Exhibition hours are noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Admission costs $9, $8 for seniors and students; free for members and children under 12. Call (626) 577-1660 or visit pasadenahistory.org.

The Netherlands boasts such delights as tulips, Rembrandt and stroopwafels.

My daughter moved to Amsterdam for grad school. She left partly because there are very few places in the U.S. that offer the program she wants, and partly because the U.S. is getting scary. I concurred with both reasons, and I am absolutely thrilled for her. Right now, while I am cursing at the news, she is taking a breezy bike ride through the Dutch countryside. She is clearly the smart one. 

So, anyway, I’m fine. I’ll just huddle here on the floor of her room in a fetal position for a little while longer. 

Thank goodness for texting and FaceTime. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in the days before phones and airmail. What on earth did the Dutch East India Company sailors’ mothers do? I’ll tell you what they did. They stuffed their faces with stroopwafels.

Yes. My daughter sent me stroopwafels, and I will never be the same. How is it that I’d never had these before? I was a pastry chef for 30 years and traveled the world, including Holland (though to be fair, I was last there in 1987, and I was broke). I felt dumb. 

First created in Gouda in the 19th century, the stroopwafel is a thin, waffle-textured wafer cookie sandwiched with a cinnamon-caramel syrup. (Stroop means “syrup” in Dutch.) It is crisp but not crumbly, which makes it the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee, which is how they are eaten in the Netherlands. I am told you are supposed to set it on top of your coffee cup for a couple minutes to let the steam warm the filling a bit. Great idea — but I can never wait that long. 

As soon as the stroopwafels were gone (in one day), I started looking around for recipes to keep this party going (and to feel connected to my distant offspring). All the recipes call for using a pizzelle iron, which is a countertop appliance used to make thin Italian anise-flavored wafer cookies. I had a pizzelle iron once. I used it for a dessert I was working on when I was a pastry chef. I’m pretty sure I forgot it at that restaurant when I left. Unfortunately I can’t remember which job that was. 

One thing about being a professional cook (at least for me) is that the last thing I need is another gadget. I have so many cooking tools I don’t even know what I have anymore. So no, I am not going out to buy another pizzelle iron for this one recipe. But luckily, another thing about being a professional cook is that I can jerry-rig something else pretty easily. I have always been the kind of cook who prefers to wing it with what I’ve got, rather than make a special trip and spend more money on the proper thing. Some might consider it a fault. I find it endearing. 

My improvisation — stroopwafels on the griddle — worked great. I know all (both?) my Dutch readers will roll their eyes at this variation. But they should be happy I finally featured something from their homeland. In fact, thanks to my daughter (who abandoned me), I have a new appreciation for the Netherlands. Besides all the great stuff they’ve given the world — tulips, Rembrandt, cheese — they brought stuff to the New World that basically makes us American: cookies, pancakes, pretzels, coleslaw, Santa Claus and Christmas stockings, partying on New Year’s Eve, bowling, ice skating, the front stoop (front steps elevated in case of flooding), cultural tolerance (still working on that one) and democracy (New Amsterdam [later, New York City] was the first place on this continent with a bill of rights). All of these ideas were brought here by Dutch settlers, and I couldn’t be more grateful. So thank you, Netherlanders. Now just be sure you guys take good care of my baby.  ||||

STROOPWAFELS

This recipe is traditionally made on a very thin waffle iron. A pizzelle iron or an ice cream-cone iron will do the trick. But if you have neither, you can make these on the griddle. They will not have the traditional waffle pattern, but they taste just as good. When the recipe calls for placing dough in waffle iron, place it on the griddle instead, and press down on it for a minute with a grill press or metal spatula. Then flip for another minute until both sides are golden brown.


Ingredients:

Wafer:

1¾ cups unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon milk

1½ tablespoons yeast

1 egg

cup superfine sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:

¾ cup brown sugar

1½ cups golden syrup or dark corn syrup

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Method:

1. Mix together melted butter, milk and yeast. Stir, then set aside for a few minutes until it starts to proof (achieve its final rise before baking). Stir in the egg and sugar, then the flour. When it comes together as a dough, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 2 to 3 minutes to combine well. Cover and set aside to rise for 2 hours.    

2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn up and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Stir in cinnamon and butter, then set aside to cool.

3. Preheat pizzelle iron (or griddle). Roll dough into walnut-size balls, and place onto the center of the iron. Close and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown. As soon as the cookie is done, cut it in half lengthwise to make two thin sandwich halves. Spread a thin layer of filling in the center, and close. Repeat with remaining dough. Store airtight, or (if you have more self-control than I do) freeze for extended periods.


Leslie Bilderback is a chef and cookbook author, a certified master baker and an art history instructor. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.

East meets West in Stan Lai’s original new play at the Huntington.

The Huntington’s Chinese Garden, or Liu Fang Yuan (Garden of Flowing Fragrance), is the atmospheric setting for Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, a new play by Stan Lai running through Oct. 26. Festival director of the wildly popular Wuzhen Theatre Festival staged every October in the picturesque town of Wuzhen, China, Lai takes on the occasional special project — two years ago he directed The Dream of the Red Chamber for the San Francisco Opera. That same year the acclaimed Washington, D.C.–born playwright was commissioned by the CalArts Center for New Performance and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens to create a new play for the Chinese Garden, which would be staged around its man-made lake. Audience members would witness scenes as they unfolded in the various pavilions, terraces and bridges.
“The opportunity to do something like this is very rare,” says Lai, enjoying a moment of respite between rehearsals on the terrace of the garden tea house, dubbed Terrace That Invites the Mountains. A soft breeze is blowing across the lake, which is lined with gnarly Taihu rocks from China, and temperatures are beginning to cool. “To do a site-specific, immersive project that is real theater, not just an installation or something, this is a different thing. It’s storytelling that occurs through a garden.”
Each night’s intimate audience of 40 gathers first at the tea house, formally called the Hall of the Jade Camellia, then splits into two groups to watch various scenes being performed on the east and west sides of the lake. Both groups will see the same scenes, but in a different order.
The inspiration for Nightwalk came to Lai when he toured this garden three years ago. He shared his idea with Travis Preston, dean of the CalArts School of Theater, who’d wanted to do a project with him through their Center for New Performance. “We’re not really looking for plays, we’re looking for artists we want to work with,” Preston says in a phone interview. “Stan’s a writer and director at the same time. He’s devising the work as he’s rehearsing it; that’s very consistent with the kind of experimentation we’re interested in. There’s also a lyricism in Stan’s work I find very moving.”
Lai, who shuttles between Taiwan and China, conducted a workshop in 2016 with prospective actors and participants at CalArts and the Chinese Garden. His idea was to weave together two stories: one involving Henry Huntington, the railroad magnate whose collections and estate make up the core of The Huntington, and the other, the Chinese opera classic The Peony Pavilion.
The Peony Pavilion is a tragicomedy written by Tang Xianzu in 1598 — the original play ran for 55 scenes and took over 20 hours to perform. (Nightwalk runs about 90 minutes.) In it a young maiden, Du Liniang, enters a garden where she dreams of a handsome scholar, Liu Mengmei, and tumbles head over heels in love with him. She falls so deeply that when she awakens, she wastes away pining for him. Later, this same scholar visits her garden and has a dream about her. In the dream he’s encouraged to find her grave and exhume her body — which he does, and she miraculously comes back to life, uncorrupted.
“It’s one of the most famous Chinese plays, but not well known outside of China,” says Lai in his deep, measured voice. “It’s so steeped in the tradition that I’m very interested in and write about myself a lot, which is the reality of dreams, the reality of art, also my own interest in the creative process itself — these are the things that are blending together in the garden here.” In his play, the playwright becomes part of the story. “He’s in the midst of writing The Peony Pavilion,” says Lai, and Du Liniang becomes his imagined heroine and muse. “Du Liniang is trying to teach him how to write.”
The Western part of the story takes place in the early 1920s, when Henry Huntington acquires the Thomas Gainsborough painting, The Blue Boy, today a pride and joy of the Huntington art collection and the subject of a concurrent exhibition (see page 15). His curator also introduces him to Chinese opera, via an excerpt from The Peony Pavilion, which is performed in Nightwalk on a rotating basis by two stars of the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe. After our interview, Lai invites me to stay for the rehearsal and the kunqu performance. This takes place late in the evening, in the Clear and Transcendent pavilion, which has been equipped with seats — and the audience becomes Henry Huntington’s guests. As Du Liniang, Luo Chenxue comes from stage right, prostrate with grief and pining for her dream lover, while sending her regrets to her mother. Almost collapsing, Luo begins her plaintive aria, her eyes bright with tears — without even understanding the words, the performance is literally a showstopper. Everyone stops what they’re doing — actors, tech crew, guests — and listens. It’s a heartrending, deeply convincing performance, despite the fact that Luo is not dressed for the part, instead clad in a T-shirt and jeans.
Most of the other actors are CalArts students and alumni — Reggie Yip, a CalArts graduate, as the Chinese maid, and Hao Feng, a current CalArts MFA student, as the Playwright — the play’s protagonist. Two years ago Yip was in the workshop Lai held in preparation for the production. While most of the play is in English, both point to specific Chinese cultural elements reflected in the script. “If you listen to the language, the way the language flows, there’s a cadence,” says Yip, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. That’s also the case with certain themes: “I’m on the East side of the piece, and there’s a lot of conversation about gender roles, this hierarchy of family that’s very Chinese.” “Filial piety,” adds Feng.
During rehearsals Lai is remarkably low-key. He speaks calmly, but with authority. Asked about his directorial style, he says, “Why do you want to scare people? You want to encourage people. That’s the basis of my method — to let people profoundly understand who the character is, because maybe I don’t even know who the character is when I’m creating it. It’s not like this is Hamlet or an already created character. This is something that I’m working on together with my actor, exploring a character.”
And the Chinese Garden’s uniqueness makes it the perfect setting for that character, Lai says. “I’ve been in many gardens in China, in Suzhou in particular,” he says. “The beauty of the Chinese garden always has to do with classical poetry or classical literature. You know, the scenic spots always need a story or a reference.” That’s certainly true of The Chinese Garden — every scenic point has a poetic name — and serendipitously enough, The Huntington has just announced the final phase of its construction. “It’s all about order: In a way it’s a little strange, in another way it’s exquisite.”

Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, written and directed by Stan Lai, is performed at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Oct. 26 at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Ticket prices range from $85 to $150, depending on day and membership status. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Visit huntington.org.

Visitors can witness art conservation in action in Project Blue Boy

For decades, the handsome young boy with rosy red cheeks decked out in a fashionable blue satin outfit with knee breeches has delighted guests in the Thornton Portrait Gallery at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Painted around 1770 by prominent English landscape and portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy has an endearing charm reflected in a careful composition that reveals the master’s fine strokes, using a shimmering blue hue created with numerous tints.

Now visitors will have a different view of the relaxed young lad as he poses in the English countryside — a close-up so extreme it can be microscopic. The Huntington’s new show Project Blue Boy offers gallery visitors a behind-the-scenes experience of the extensive two-year-long conservation process that will restore and stabilize Gainsborough’s classic work as much as possible.

This is the first time the Huntington is putting a conservation project on display for the public to observe; it’s a rare opportunity to witness both the art and science of conservation in action. “We’ve known for a while that the painting needed attention,” explains Melinda McCurdy, exhibit cocurator and associate curator for British art. The original colors have turned hazy and dull. Paint is starting to lift and flake off in certain areas. Too many layers of added varnish have served as temporary bandages to keep the almost life-size painting intact. Likewise, the painting’s lining (added as another
attempt at restoration) has been separating. The Blue Boy needed a serious tune-up.

Earlier this year, the painting was subjected to a three-month-long examination. High-tech methods — infrared reflectography, ultraviolet illumination and a scanning electron microscope — helped conservators chart a course of action.

At the helm of Project Blue Boy is Christina O’Connell, the Huntington’s senior painting conservator and exhibit’s other cocurator. She has set up shop in the Thornton Portrait Gallery inside a special satellite studio, complete with work table, easel, conservation lights and exhaust units. A half wall separates her from the crowds, but the public can watch on a display monitor as she performs the deft and precise work of stabilizing the paint, cleaning the surface and removing the non-original varnish and overpaint. (Her satellite work schedule will be posted on the Huntington website.)

The plan is for O’Connell to work three to four months in the satellite studio. The Blue Boy will then go off view for another three to four months while she strengthens the canvas structure and applies new varnish with special equipment that can’t be moved into the gallery. After that’s completed, the painting will once again return to the satellite studio where visitors can continue to watch as O’Connell takes the artwork closer to perfection in anticipation of The Blue Boy’s return to gallery walls in early 2020.

Among the paraphernalia in O’Connell’s toolbox is an impressive 6-foot-tall surgical microscope. This state-of-the-art device has a long moveable arm and optics that can magnify up to 25 times; especially helpful when she applies special adhesives to areas where paint is lifting off the canvas. 

Near the satellite studio, there’s an educational exhibit with an iPad describing the science of conservation and a display of typical conservator hand tools; they’re on hand to help guests gain a deeper appreciation for the conservator’s skilled artistry.

Visitors will also be able to see what lurks underneath The Blue Boy; an interactive light box will show digital x-rays of the artwork, revealing that the it was painted on a used canvas: The artist had originally begun a portrait of a man, before opting for a younger model. McCurdy hopes the current conservation process may unearth more clues to the earlier model’s identity. Perhaps just as interesting is that other x-rays show that at one time Gainsborough placed a small white dog next to the boy’s bowed shoes. For whatever reason, the hound didn’t make the cut and was eventually transformed into a pile of rocks.

Information will be posted on the artist and painting, which has called San Marino home since Henry Huntington purchased it in 1921 for a whopping $728,000 — the largest sum paid at that time for any artwork. “The Blue Boy is iconic for a reason… it’s a really good painting,” McCurdy says, adding that it is as much a study of the look and feel of period apparel as it is a character study of its young subject.

Look closely at the intricate details of the clothes, she says. “Gainsborough’s great skill was as a master painter, using vigorous slashes of unmodulated color to mimic the look and texture of smooth satin in the boy’s costume, for instance.” The illustrious costume was inspired by the work of 17th-century Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck, who often incorporated fashion in his work. (Note the blue coat worn by the young subject of Portrait of Charles, Lord Strange.)

While his portraits are masterful in capturing the essence of their models, Gainsborough preferred the peaceful beauty of landscapes. He once said, in third person: “He painted portraits for money and landscapes because he loved them.”

There remains a lure of unsolved mystery surrounding The Blue Boy. As famous as it was back then and is today, no one knows for sure just who this fair-faced boy was. Many art historians originally thought it was a portrait of a younger Jonathan Buttall, the painting’s first owner. “There is no documentary evidence to support that,” explains McCurdy.

Susan Sloman, a London-based art historian, thinks she might have unraveled the mystery. “She proposes that the model for The Blue Boy is Gainsborough Dupont, Thomas Gainsborough’s nephew, who lived with the artist’s family and later served as his uncle’s studio assistant,” she says. This young, readily available model could have been in the right place at the right time — never imagining that his likeness would live on forever the world over.

Originally titled A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, the painting received high acclaim from fellow artists when it first appeared in public in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770. Somewhere along the line, its nickname, The Blue Boy, seemed more appropriate and became its official name. Fame grew for The Blue Boy; for years, the painting traveled around Great Britain, endearing itself to the masses, and public outcry in Britain was loud when Henry Huntington (an American!) acquired the British treasure. Huntington wanted to show off his prize and enlisted art dealer Joseph Duveen to stage an international publicity blitz around the painting’s journey from London to Los Angeles. It was briefly put on display at the National Gallery of Art in London where it was viewed by 90,000 people. “They really hyped it up,” says McCurdy. “These limited engagement exhibitions and newspaper articles really transformed The Blue Boy into a well-known and recognizable icon of the times.” 

It wasn’t until the late 1920s that The Blue Boy was introduced to another icon-to-be, one that would be forever visually associated with the Gainsborough masterpiece. In 1926, Huntington purchased Pinkie (1794) painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence. The young girl dramatically posing on a high cliff, a breeze jostling her dress and pink hat ribbons, became The Blue Boy’s eternal partner on the Huntington Art Gallery’s walls and in our culture’s collective consciousness. A bit of irony: There is neither historical nor costume connection between them. No matter; they have been the Huntington’s power couple for decades, a visitor favorite and tourist must-see.

But for now, guests will have to wait for their reunion as The Blue Boy’s imperfections and cracks vanish, his colors are revitalized and the magic of conservation is complete — a signal that the young man in his glistening smooth blue costume is ready to resume his rightful place on gallery walls.

Christina O’Connell, senior painting conservator, works in public view Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 to 4 p.m.; she also appears the first Sunday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. through January. Visit the website for details about the second in-gallery session next year. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Visit huntington.org.

The diminutive but powerful Supreme Court justice is the subject of an unusual exhibition at the Skirball.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second woman on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, when she was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, but the octogenarian justice is the first justice to become a cross-generational cultural phenomenon.

To wit: Ginsburg is the first to be the subject of runaway viral social media memes, a bestselling book, a tribute rap song, an action figure, tattoo art, manicurist-nail art, cartoons, Halloween costumes, coloring books, a children’s book, a fitness workout book and a wildly popular recurring Saturday Night Live parody by Kate McKinnon. Like other justices, she is also the subject of a recently released documentary and a forthcoming feature film. Ginsburg’s fierce dissents to Supreme Court rulings have even been set to music as part of musician Jonathon Mann’s 2014 “Song a Day” project.

So itonly seems right that in Ginsburg’s 25th year on the nation’s highest court and the so-called Year of the Woman (a nod to the wave of women running in the midterm elections), that an exhibition about her trail-blazing life opens Oct. 19 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The exhibition, which runs through March 10, 2019, is based on the 2015 New York Times bestselling book and popular Tumblr blog of the same name, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (HarperCollins; 2015), co-authored by journalist Irin Carmon and lawyer Shana Knizhnik. Using archival photographs and documents, audio and video recordings, contemporary art and interactive elements, the show looks at the American legal system and civil rights movement through Ginsburg’s personal experiences and public service. It was organized by Cate Thurston, Skirball museum associate curator, and the book’s co-authors.

“I thought [Notorious RBG] would be perfect” for a museum exhibition, said Thurston. “It has a strong narrative and a point of view and it speaks to a moment in time. But you want it to be something people can relate to. That felt very true of Notorious RBG.”

The RBG cultural phenom grew, in part, out of Knizhnik’s hit Tumblr tribute dubbed “Notorious RBG” The blog was sparked by Knizhnik’s fury at the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder). Inspired by Ginsburg’s searing dissent, Knizhnik, then a law student in New York, launched the Tumblr and coupled it with T-shirts. She took the name Notorious RBG from a friend’s Facebook post about the dissent, and her friends and colleagues later joined in, writing lyrics about Ginsburg that played off the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s rap song “Juicy”; they made a rap video tribute and posted it on YouTube, according to a 2014 New Republic story. Meanwhile, digital strategists Frank Chi and Aminatou Sow, who were in Washington, D.C., at the time of the ruling, were also inspired by Ginsburg’s raging dissent. Chi took a photo of Ginsburg and added a red background and a crown, jauntily clocked to one side, in artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s style; they added the words “Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth,” printed stickers and posted them all over Washington and on Instagram. The now ubiquitous image grew into a meme, and the flurry of digital mashups was like a match to gasoline — it became an explosive Internet hit. The book would come later

“The name [Notorious RBG] is obviously a reference to Notorious B.I.G., who is this large imposing rapper, a really powerful figure; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is this 90-pound Jewish grandmother,” Knizhnik told The New Republic. “The juxtaposition of the two made it humorous, but also a celebration of how powerful she really is.”

Connecting the reserved, diminutive justice to the late 300-pound rapper is a playful thread that runs throughout the book in chapter titles inspired by the late rapper’s lyrics. The exhibit mirrors the flow and content of the book — lyrics also inform the show’s section titles.  The opera-loving, lace-glove-wearing Ginsburg is probably not exactly a rap fan, but she said, gamely, in a 2017 Charlie Rose Show interview, that linking her to the late rapper was “natural,” since both were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

When the Skirball approached the co-authors about building an exhibit around RBG and the book, they were thrilled. “We hope that Notorious RBG, whether it is the book or the exhibit, provides an entry point for everyone to engage with the court, the history of women and civil rights in this country, and RBG’s inspiring story,” co-author Carmon said in an email. “There’s so much about Justice Ginsburg’s life and work that all of us can learn from, whether it’s her passion for women’s rights or her commitment to the rule of law.”

While American feminists were loudly protesting in the ’70s, Ginsburg was quietly and methodically turning words into action by arguing gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. She made life-changing gains for women, winning five out of six cases by expanding the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to include women. The rulings struck down laws allowing job discrimination for pregnant women, permitting the forced sterilization of black women and making women’s jury service optional, which led to unbalanced juries. Ginsburg also argued so-called “widower cases” to secure Social Security survivor’s benefits for men, ultimately winning two cases in 1975 and 1977. And as a justice, her fierce dissent in a 2007 case about gender pay discrimination led Congress to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed in 2009.

Thurston, who spent 18 months working on the exhibit, examined Ginsburg’s papers at the Library of Congress and was able to obtain archival objects and several reproductions as well as loans of originals from 13 other collections. The exhibit’s sections include “an imagined, immersive environment” that recreates Ginsburg’s childhood Brooklyn apartment replete with vintage Nancy Drew books (Ginsburg’s childhood favorites), along with a scrapbook of childhood memories that visitors can leaf through, said Thurston. A recreated “hyper-real” living room of Ginsburg’s first home is decked with objects that visitors can touch and feel. “We were conscious of telling an accurate story, but there are moments where we can’t tell everything” because details have dimmed over the years, said Thurston. “In those moments, we have built in an experience around it. So when details are vague, we can be playful and fill it in.”

There is a partial recreation of a gray Chevrolet that the young Ruth Bader and the late Martin Ginsburg, Ruth’s husband of 63 years, drove on their first date. When visitors pull down the car sun visors in the reimagined 1930s/40s–style Chevrolet, a photograph of the couple at their engagement party is revealed. Visitors can also watch a video of RBG’s college graduation and honeymoon as they imagine riding along with Marty and Ruth.

The childhood section is juxtaposed against an area dedicated to Ginsburg’s serious law school studies, first at Harvard University, and then at Columbia University where she transferred when Marty Ginsburg, by then her husband, landed his first job as a tax attorney in New York City. The exhibit also explores her undergrad days at Cornell University where she met Marty, fell in love and received her bachelor’s degree.

“We have 10 audio-listening stations where you are able to actually hear her when she was presenting oral arguments for one of the five sex discrimination cases to the Supreme Court, taken from the actual moment,” said Thurston, adding that Ginsburg argued these cases for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, which she cofounded in 1972. The audio is taken from the landmark Fronteiro v. Richardson case of 1973, the first time Ginsburg spoke before the Supreme Court. She was so nervous that she skipped lunch for fear she would vomit. She won. The court ruled that families of military women were entitled to the same benefits as those of their male counterparts.

The exhibit also includes video of Ginsburg reflecting on her important cases. “As much as possible we are dropping you into that moment in time,” Thurston said. “You hear her examining these important cases in her life. These sections of the exhibit are very concise. You see what the case was, the outcome and what was at stake and how it impacts people. ”

It is these engaging elements that make the exhibit “so magical” and important, achieving the organizers’ goal to “crystallize” Ginsburg’s important cases, said Thurston. Visitors can also sit at a facsimile of Ginsburg’s desk in the Supreme Court chambers. When the drawer opens, a video of her working is revealed. Several of her majority and dissent jabots (she coordinates fancy collars with decisions) are on loan and will be available for visitors to try on.

Though the exhibit is faithful to the book, it also delves more deeply into certain aspects of her career, such as the profound influence of the underrated and overlooked Pauli Murray, a lawyer, civil rights activist and founding member of the National Organization of Women (NOW). Murray originated the strategy of harnessing the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to include women as grounds for litigating sex discrimination cases. Murray’s work informed Ginsburg’s legal efforts with ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “We had the space so were able to do a deep dive into Murray’s story,” said Thurston. “She was an incredible woman.”

The show’s organizers say Ginsburg’s life and work is particularly relevant as the country continues battling over women’s reproductive autonomy, as well as voting and civil rights. Indeed, the 85-year-old justice has vowed publicly to stay on the bench as long as possible. “As long as I can do the job full steam, I will do it,” Ginsburg told supporters at a 2017 Equal Justice Works event. She told a CNN interviewer that Justice John Paul Stevens served until he was 90, and she thinks she can serve five more years. A two-time cancer survivor, she works out with a personal trainer twice a week, a regimen reportedly too rigorous for some of her younger associate justices. RBG fans joke about sending her bushels of kale and longevity tonics to keep her on the court as long as possible.

That’s good news to admirers like former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, whom The Hill quoted, saying: “She is an extraordinarily able, talented person. She remains so to this day…I have to say she is someone I have the hugest respect for. She is a hero in this country.”

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg runs Oct. 19 through March 10, 2019, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.  Coauthors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik will discuss the book and blog at 11 a.m. Oct. 21; attendees can sip coffee and sample pastry prepared from a recipe in Chef Supreme, a collection published by Supreme Court spouses in 2011 in memory of Marty Ginsburg, who did all the cooking in the Ginsburg household. Museum hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission costs $12, $9 for seniors, students and children over 12 and $7 for children 2 to 12; members and children under 2 are admitted free. Visit skirball.org.